The 2014 high school softball season is in the early stages, but it is already apparent there will be some area teams in contention for region honors this spring.
Leading the charge is Clover. Coach Shea Hall’s Blue Eagles are the Region 3-AAAA defending champions, and a lot of veteran players return this spring.
Everything starts with junior pitcher Elizabeth Edmunds. She has been playing on the varsity team since the seventh grade.
“She is so consistent. She hits the spots, and lets us play defense,” said Hall. “However, if she needs to, she can get a key strikeout.”
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Clover is working with senior Brooke Rhinehardt and sophomore Cayman Tsiukes behind the plate. Tsiukes was the JV receiver last season, while Brooke Rhinehardt played third base on the varsity squad.
“Brooke is so versatile, and she leads by example,” said Hall. “Both are doing well thus far, and that will give us some depth behind the plate.”
Clover will count on junior shortstop Marisa Harkey, senior center fielder Brittany Rhinehardt, and junior Blake Wallert at second base for offensive leadership as well as their play in the field.
“Harkey and Wallert give us a solid combination up the middle,” said Hall. “Brittany is a great leadoff hitter, and she keeps the outfield together.”
Hall’s team made it to the third round of the AAAA playoffs last year before being eliminated, and she knows it will take hard work to get there again.
“This is a strong region,” said Hall. “We have a target on our back, and I look for the race in the region to be a real dogfight. There are a lot of really good teams in the region. There are no easy games.”
Hall, who is entering her 13th season at the helm, likes the fact that the competition in the region is so strong.
“That helps us when we get to the playoffs,” she said. “We are already used to seeing good pitching and strong competition.”
Northwestern is one of the youngest teams in the area, but the Trojans will provide plenty of competition for Clover this spring in the region. The Trojans return a lot of veteran players from last year’s team that made it to the second round of the playoffs.
Junior pitcher Kori Wancheck has been a varsity starter since the seventh grade, and she struck out 180 batters last year.
“She is the hardest worker I have ever coached,” said head coach Bryan Smith. “She has matured into a outstanding pitcher.”
Catcher Rachel Marion is back for her sophomore year, and Smith has confidence in her abilities.
“She calls the pitches,” said Smith. “She is like having a coach on the field.”
Freshman shortstop Cassie Wancheck and sophomore Daina Chase at second base make the Trojans strong up the middle. Junior Tiana Lewter is a leader in the outfield.
“This is going to be a real competitive race,” said Smith. “This has always been a strong region, and there are several really good teams in this region.”